Members of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, will sponsor a "Rosaries for Peace" rally and ecumenical service today at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, to pray for a peaceful, nuclear-free world.

Similar services will be held around the world on this, the date observed by Roman Catholics as the anniversary of the Virgin Mary.

Encouraged by the U.S. Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter on War and Peace issued in May 1983, the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima has sponsored 100 days of prayer for world peace from July 16 to Oct. 31.

The crusade "is not political in any way," explained Msgr. William O'Donnell, spiritual director of the Blue Army of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which has more than 5,000 members. "The main purpose of the rally is to pray for peace in the world."

An international organization founded in 1947, the Blue Army was named for visions of the Virgin Mary seen by three children on six separate occasions in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. The children said she wore blue garments.

A cloistered Carmelite nun named Sister Lucia who lives in Portugal and is now in her mid-70s, is the sole survivor of the children who said they witnessed the vision.

The organization's members -- more than 20 million worldwide -- believe that war is the result of personal sin, but that war can be prevented by making reparation to God in the form of personal sacrifice and prayer, particularly reciting the rosary.

"We plan to give rosaries out at the rally and brown scapulars," said Irene Titus, president of the Washington Archdiocese Blue Army, said of today's 2 p.m. demonstration.

A rosary is a string of beads used to keep count of prayers, especially designated "rosary" prayers. Brown scapulars, or garments covering the shoulders, are worn by Blue Army members as a sign of devotion to the Virgin Mary.

"The rosary is the main devotion to the Blessed Mother Virgin Mary and that's why we stress its importance," explained Blue Army member Jerrye Embrey of Northwest Washington.

The rosary rallies are in response to "Our Lady's admonition at Fatima to pray the rosary; Pope John Paul II's 'specific request' for a rosary crusade; and the teachings of the U.S. Catholic bishops in their Pastoral on War and Peace," reads a flyer published by the Blue Army's U.S. headquarters in Washington, N.J., announcing the rally.

"It's obvious that the ultimate horror in the world is nuclear destruction," mused Msgr. O'Donnell, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda. "We're going to take Our Lady at her word and pray for what she asked us to pray for."